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Secret identities are an important plot point in many-a-comics, and it's usually a big deal when a superhero's secret identity risks exposure. However, many superheroes reveal their identity to friends or allies - and supervillains frequently deduce it on their own.

My question is, in the Marvel universe - who has done the best job of keeping their identity under wraps?

Since this question is a bit subjective, the determinant for "best kept secrecy" will be "number of people who know about the hero/villain" vs "number of people who know the identity of the hero/villain." Additionally, the hero/villain must also be exposed to at least a major city (i.e. no "neighborhood" superheroes).

Bonus points for giving a separate answer for heroes and villains.

Clarification: To qualify, the character must be trying to preserve their secret (i.e. no Iron Man) and the identity has to be current (e.g. no origin stories or forgotten pasts).

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+1 (good Q) There is a saying. "If two people know it, it's not a secret anymore." Most of those characters don't have secret identities based on the same assumption. It's just a list of well-kept character identities from public eyes. – apollo Mar 22 at 13:07
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@AncientSwordRage No, only characters that actively have an "alter ego" or "secret identity" that they are trying to protect. Characters who have lost or left-behind identities, while interesting, do not count here. – WannabeCoder Mar 22 at 14:00
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Superman is known worldwide (population 7 billion-ish). The number of people who know his true identity is probably less than a few hundred. – Valorum Mar 22 at 15:27
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@WannabeCoder - Superman exists in the Marvel-verse; dc.wikia.com/wiki/DC_Marvel_Crossovers – Valorum Mar 22 at 16:06
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"What Marvel Superhero or Supervillain Has the Most Secret Identity?" We're not allowed to tell you. – T.J. Crowder Mar 22 at 19:15
up vote 7 down vote accepted

This answer is inspired by recognizer's answer of Galactus.

Apparently his answer is disqualified because Galactus no longer goes by his original name anymore.

So I propose that Silver Surfer is a close second, for the reasons outlined by recognizer: trillions of people know (er, knew) Silver Surfer as the Herald of Galactus, but only a few people know him as Norrin Radd.

You might say that Silver Surfer is disqualified for the same reasons as Galactus, but in his most recent incarnation, he does indeed go by Norrin Radd.

Here is a scan from the most recent issue:

Silver Surfer has a new companion named Dawn Greenwood, and her family knows him as both Silver Surfer and Norrin Radd. Compare that to the trillions of people who only knew him as the Herald of Galactus.

Edit: Ellesedil has asked whether Norrin Radd is really another identity, or if Silver Surfer just goes by multiple names. I would argue that Norrin Radd is indeed another identity that he only shows to his close allies (specifically, the Greenwood family). Here are 3 pages from issue 4 of the new Silver Surfer:

As you can see, Silver Surfer "silvers down" to go back to his original form, and rediscovers little things like eating and sleeping. I would say that this makes Norrin Radd and Silver Surfer different identities, and in fact one of the interesting things about the current incarnation of Silver Surfer is exploring that struggle between where Norrin Radd stops and Silver Surfer starts.

Edit: The most recent issue (June 2016) causes everybody on Earth to know Silver Surfer as Norrin Radd, so my answer might no longer be correct.

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This answer has potential, but I do have a question. It looks like Norrin Radd and Silver Surfer are interchangeable in that panel. Does he appear to make a distinction between the Silver Surfer identity and the Norrin Radd identity, perhaps when interacting with other people he's less familiar with? Or is the name Norrin Radd simply used to ease social interactions when appropriate? – Ellesedil Mar 23 at 19:49
    
@Ellesedil That's a good question. I've edited my answer to hopefully address that. – Kevin Workman Mar 24 at 13:25
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I can't not ask: What's with the hand made of soup or pudding coming out of the bowl? – Traubenfuchs Mar 24 at 14:13
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@Traubenfuchs Ha! That's a little foreshadowing. In the next issue, it's revealed that the Lord of Nightmares is in town, causing nightmares to come to life. This book is super weird and great, definitely worth checking out! – Kevin Workman Mar 24 at 14:24
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Great answer. +1 – Ellesedil Mar 24 at 16:41

Galactus is known throughout the universe as a gargantuan eater of worlds, but his original identity was a humble humanoid named Galan:
comic book panel of a bald man in futuristic attire
...native of a planet called Taa, in a universe that existed before Marvel's 616 universe ever came to be. Taa was destroyed as its universe collapsed into a Cosmic Egg, but Galan survived via shenanigans involving cosmic rays, and he was reborn into the new (616) universe that was created when the Cosmic Egg exploded in a Big Bang.

The Watcher Ecce was there to observe the birth of the being who would come to be known as Galactus, who briefly existed as Galan in his previous body, before the cosmic power consumed him entirely:
a Watcher observes a floating, glowing humanoid
a Watcher describes the hunger for worlds rising in the being he observes
a Watcher observes a humanoid being of green, glowing energy, and describes his reluctance to interfere

Much later, Galactus showed Thor the events of his birth, including the end of his life in the previous universe. These events are all covered in Thor #168-169, and the origin story itself was reprinted as Super-Villain Classics #1 - Galactus: The Origin (including some changes to the script, such as stating the name Galan, and changing "radiation" to "cosmic rays").

In Fantastic Four #262, Odin told Galan's story at Reed Richards' trial,to an audience including the Fantastic Four, the Watcher Uatu, Shi'ar Empress Lilandra, the Gladiator, John Byrne, and a jury composed of representatives of alien races who were affected by Galactus.

Galactus is surely known as the destroyer of worlds to many trillions of individuals throughout the universe. However, he is known as Galan only to Thor, Odin, at least two Watchers, the Fantastic Four, and the others present at Reed's trial, who could perhaps number in the hundreds or thousands, depending how many victims of Galactus were represented. While that is quite a number of people who now know about Galan and his dead universe, it pales in comparison to Galactus's fame, as there is surely no one else in the universe who is known as widely as Galactus.

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Does Galactus ever bother being Galan at all? Or is he being Galactus 100% of the time? I feel like the question is asking for characters who actively preserve their secret identities. If Galactus doesn't really bother with one, I'm not really sure this answer fits. – Ellesedil Mar 22 at 17:24
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@Ellesedil That's true - that does violate the rule of "no lost/left-behind identities. He is not trying to preserve that identity as a secret. Still, this answer is interesting. – WannabeCoder Mar 22 at 17:26
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@WannabeCoder Yeah, I suppose he isn't actively HIDING his original identity, so much as letting it go unnoticed. I interpreted his selecting only Thor to reveal it to, and the fact that it was used as evidence to determine whether it was wrong for Reed to spare Galactus's life, as indicating that it was a secret that held some value. – recognizer Mar 22 at 17:37
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I think this answer demonstrates that the character with the ACTUAL most secret identity is John Byrne. – Polisurgist Mar 23 at 4:49
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@recognizer Have you read the latest issues of Silver Surfer? He definitely uses his identity now. Maybe I'll scan some pages when I get home. – Kevin Workman Mar 23 at 18:35

Robert Hunter is almost certainly known worldwide as Nitro, the supervillain responsible for the Stamford Incident, which precipitated the (superhero) Civil War.

He should have a very high ratio of people who only know him as Nitro, rather than his real identity.

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Ah. The clarification makes it make more sense. – FuzzyBoots Mar 22 at 15:28
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by Civil War you mean the Avengers comic book plot, not the American Civil War? – TylerH Mar 23 at 13:14
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@TylerH the plot. Look at the context: The American Civil War was not precipitated by the Stamford Incident. – Mindwin Mar 23 at 13:36
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@Mindwin as someone coming in as a casual lurker, Tyler's question was useful as I assumed that in some universe, The American Civil War was precipitated by the Stamford Incident. – MackieChan Mar 23 at 21:25
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The Marvel Wiki indicates that Nitro's identity is public. If there's any news reporting at all that identifies Nitro as Robert Hunter from the Stamford Incident, then I'd think this removes Nitro as a viable answer to this question. Anyone with an Internet connection could find out his alternate identity, which wouldn't be very secret. – Ellesedil Mar 24 at 16:55

Arguably Thor, depending on whether or not you believe that Dr. Donald Blake is actually a real person (and an individual being), with a real history and genealogy with a mother and a father, or just a figment of Odin's imagination, created out of whole cloth as an adult to serve as a mortal prison cage for Thor's essence - the writers tend to go back and forth on that question, before deciding that it probably doesn't matter.

(JMS definitely comes down hard on the "Yes, he is a real person, or at least he is now, which is what counts" side of the equation, but the consensus amongst writers seems to be "No, Odin just made him up, he's not a real person, and he's pretty boring anyway, so who cares?", which I think is probably the case).

It all gets very complicated with Thor's street face, especially when there are later on multiple other "hosts" for Thor (who a certainly real people), and multiple hammers being wielded by different claimants to "The Power of THOR" (which may be something else entirely) concurrently, but taken in isolation with the Don Blake version (which Marvel Studios and the Ultimate Universe both, wisely, decided to go with), you can argue either that Thor simply doesn't have (or need) a secret identity, or that his is so well protected and mystically cloaked from view, no-one even knows he has one, or has thought to look for one.

Nick Fury, of course, knows exactly who he really is.

Without having to be told.

Because Nick Fury knows everything.

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